Is your school failing in key areas?

Schools are mandated to follow specific curriculum expectations, but often the narrow curriculum leaves out important topics that students need to know.

If you have any concerns about the coverage of these topics in your school, create a survey to collect data that will inform you of the extent of the problem!

Here’s a guide to creating a survey using Google forms
https://www.laptopmag.com/uk/articles/create-survey-google-forms

I suggest using a linear 1-5 scale where 1 is fully disagree, and 5 is fully agree. Give the survey to your students and see what their response is.

The questions you may ask can vary, but I suggest the following questions.

To what extent are you confident that you fully understand eating and diet?
To what extent are you confident that you fully understand the importance of sleeping?
To what extent are you confident that you fully understand how exercise regulates the body?
To what extent are you confident that you fully understand how we establish and maintain a sense of purpose in our lives?
To what extent are you confident that you fully understand the science of taking risks?
To what extent are you confident that you fully understand the physiological components of emotional processes?
To what extent are you confident that you fully understand how to deal with emotional hijackings? (where emotions cause you to lose control)
To what extent are you confident that you fully understand how emotions can govern our lives?
To what extent are you confident that you fully understand how to make meaningful connections?
To what extent are you confident that you fully understand how to maintain meaningful connections?
To what extent are you confident that you fully understand how to research new information?
To what extent are you confident that you fully understand how to solve unconventional problems?
To what extent are you confident that you fully understand self awareness?
To what extent are you confident that you fully understand your best talents and attributes?
To what extent are you confident that you fully understand how to develop your best talents and attributes?
To what extent are you confident that you fully understand how your attention functions?
To what extent are you confident that you fully understand how habits govern your life?
To what extent are you confident that you fully understand self-discipline?
To what extent are you confident that you fully understand self-esteem?
To what extent are you confident that you fully understand what philosophy means?
To what extent are you confident that you fully understand the concept of “Justice?”
To what extent are you confident that you fully understand the concept of “Virtue?”
To what extent are you confident that you fully understand local politics?
To what extent are you confident that you fully understand global politics?
To what extent are you confident that you fully understand enterprise?
To what extent are you confident that you fully understand how you would start your own business?

These questions will reveal stunning gaps in your schools educational achievement. Closing these gaps is vital to providing students the education they deserve.

I hope this is useful.

Template letter to your MP

Find out who your MP is and what they stand for: https://members.parliament.uk/FindYourMP

Find your local councillors:
Full list of all MPs:
The more politicians you send it do, the more likely we see change.

Copy and paste the letter below into your email app, and use the gaps to make it personal. MPs are busy but they are human and their emails are often read by their assistants, who summarise them. Make them see how important this issue is and they will pass that along.

Attach this document that illustrates the gaps in our education system: Study Share Succeed workshop

Title:

URGENT: Education failure at critical level, we must end the recruitment crisis.

Dear <MP’s name>
Our country has faced together, the darkest days many of us have ever seen. We have endured house arrest, uncertainty and hardship. I have been your constituent for years and voted for last election. My personal situation is
It is particularly distressing that when our nation entered this crisis, we did so with shattered public services. It is unconscionable that ever again we should so neglect the crucial infrastructure that holds up our incredible society. My personal connection to education is

However, great turmoil gives rise to great heroes. Politicians who have the strength to hold true to their conscience. Politicians who were prepared to stand up for what is best for our great nation. We do not need or want politicians who care only for their career path.

No respectable politician would ask schools to take on the frontlines of the pandemic after a decade of underfunding, endless government interference, and eight years of recruitment crisis.

The education system must be fixed before September if we have any hope to hold the line in the trenches. We must be able to recruit only the best teachers, instead of hiring those woefully underqualified. We must cease the endless high stakes assessments that we know are harming student mental health. We must end the inspection culture that destroys the mental health of teachers and support staff. We owe it to our nation’s children.

Attached is a guide to the gaping holes in the current national curriculum. The resources will be available soon, and free for all to use. Only politicians have the power to ensure they are used in every school.

No student should leave school without these skills, but employers know they often do. What good are English and maths when a student has a shattered sense of self esteem and constant panic attacks? We are capable of teaching our students so much better. We can show them how much more amazing life can be, instead of sitting playing Fortnite all day.

We are judged by our actions, not our intentions. Have you contributed to the eight years of recruitment crisis? Now is the time to take a stand. End the education injustice. The only path forward with Brexit and Covid will be with a small business revolution. This must begin in our currently beleaguered schools. We can do better.

Make Ofsted an advisory body, and end the inspection culture.

Fix the holes in the curriculum, make sure our kids are prepared for the business world.

Yours observantly,
<Name
Job title
Constituency>

The subtle horror of keep calm and carry on.

KEEP calm and carry on.
Keep CALM and carry on.
Keep calm and CARRY ON.
To some, this phrase summons up imagery of a valiant Britain facing up against an insidious enemy threatening the entire world.
We took a stand, battling fascists, who we knew were the bad guys, without feeling the need to say that there were “good and bad guys on both sides”.
It didn’t matter if there were good people on both sides, those supporting the Nazi aims for whatever reason carried out their atrocities.
Those who stood aside, profiteering off the war when they could have fought, also shared culpability in their disgusting legacy.
They put millions of human beings into camps hoping to purify the human race for those they deemed to be “superior humans.”
Nations united and battled in air, sea and land, with the entire world’s value of common decency at stake. The sort of common decency that declares a child, who has no say in the location of their birth, deserved a certain quality of life based on the commonalities we all share.
These commonalities are far too many to list.
I’ll try however, for any with doubt, by focusing on the incredible range of sensations that can be felt through shared emotional infrastructure:
  • The visceral rush of seizing opportunity and getting ahead of the competitors
  • The excruciating embarrassment of being made fun of by a group of people that you really thought were true friends.
  • The intense passion of the flames of new love and enduring joy of true love.
  • The deepest pits of grief on losing someone who was the reason you thought you would be your constant companion for decades to come.
  • The awe inspiring view of where an incredible mountain landscape meets the sea.
  • The crippling loneliness of those who have developed such a low sense of self that they no longer see any investment in themselves worth making, and no hope in their future.
  • The joy of looking upon your new born child for the very first time.
  • The crippling despair when confronted by a horrific truth that tells you something is deeply wrong with the world.
  • The rush of adrenaline felt skiing down a death defying valley or conquering a wild sea on a yacht.
  • The jaw dropping wonder of having your cultural expectations overwhelmed when running with the bulls.
  • The indescribable sadness of losing your child before their time.
  • The pride of seeing your adult kids surpass your wildest dreams for them.
No matter who you are, what’s in your bank account, where you are from or what medical history you have, (with some exceptions) there is an almost universal shared emotional potentiality. Every human being, by virtue of this same physiological technology, deserves a certain quality of life.
Our understanding of emotional processes has evolved so far beyond our ancient civilizations.
In their nascent scientific abilities, they thought that thunder was the anger of the gods, and the experiential internal sensation of anger was just as ephemeral in origin.
The science evolved and until recently the consensus asserted that emotions are hardwired into our brains as standard and they could be identified flawlessly through facial responses, no matter where you were born in the world.
But a new generation of scientists and technological advances used brain scanning technology to disprove that too. We now have the clearest ever understanding of the processes that governs how the brain functions on a moment to moment basis.
To me this is fascinating. Once you read and understand the implications of how it is we build an understanding of the world, your entire universe is different. I recommend you take the time to watch this and read/listen to this.
Once you dig into how our conceptions are formed by past experience, it is difficult to view the world in the same way. Our entire view of the world is shaped by experience accrued from childhood. These memories form our concepts. Our sum total of all memories combines to form our conceptual library. Our conceptual library (built from our experiences) is used to constantly generate predictions of what will happen in the world.
This is the process that allows us to catch baseballs that move far faster than our brains processing and reaction times. Unconsciously and automatically, our brains make a prediction of where the ball will be and activate muscle memory. If we are incorrect, our brains attempt to locate and correct whatever errors led to that failure. Although, here it gets complicated – the distinction between memories, concepts and predictions is only one of our own making. They are all just different interpretations of the same process.
Now potentially that last paragraph was a bit much to get your head around. If so you will have experienced something called “cognitive overload” where your brain hit a point where it predicted that it was strained beyond what it considered to be energy worth spending. The natural reaction to such a prediction is to either quit out, skip ahead or try again. Knowing how these processes work allows you to better pick your response to a given circumstance. To have this response – ability is what constitutes responsibility.
Our brains also do this with emotions. The process of actually identifying which emotion we are currently experiencing is very fraught and inaccurate. Lisa Feldman-Barrett wrote about how she thought she had butterflies in her stomach on a first date, and realised later that evening that it was not giddy excitement that she had been experiencing, but the early stages of food poisoning.
Basically, the brain is just guessing what we are feeling, then reinforcing anything we accept to be true. The physical symptoms of anxiety: elevated physical and mental activity among others, are shared with excitement. Anxiety thoughts are almost always just a variation on “future bad.” Excitement is the flipside, “future good.”
If you research into CBT, there are activities that you can learn where you take everything you are anxious about, actively search for the excitement that would come if the anxiety thoughts were proven incorrect (I will die alone –> what incredible possibilities could there be if I did manage to find someone?). This easy to enact activity can change your concepts, mind and your life.
The processes of changing your mind is fascinating too. You have two ways of digesting new information. The first is when new information gets slotted neatly into your pre-existing model of the world. This is an easy way to incorporate new information – and is one of the processes that guides the energy-saving heuristic for confirmation bias. If you already believe that all black people are gangsters that just want to do crime, and you see a news article with a young black man’s mugshot, you slot it right into your existing picture of the world.
The second process is much more arduous. Some new information will so totally alter all the things you held to be true about the world, that you cannot carry on believing in your old understanding. I have had this process happen several times since Christmas.
The first was when I broke up with my partner of 10 years, who I had fully expected to be with for the rest of my life. A sudden moment of realisation completely altered what my predictions of my future were. The second came a week and a half later surrounded by thousands of people in joyous merriment for a European new years eve countdown and firework display. (They do them differently in England.)
Thousands of people flocked to the square, to meet new people, share a drink, share the stories of the lives they had lived and wish each other happiness and luck for the coming year. Everyone was important and interesting by virtue of their difference. I had had such a negative conception of strangers prior to that night. As a teenager in London, it had been easy to believe that the majority of people out there were disinterested and far too self-important to want to talk to me. Despite living abroad and having several diverse friends try to explain this to me, it wasn’t until recently that I started to understand.
The third came from the footage of horrific police brutality on protesters only calling for police to be held accountable for those in their number who committed horrific crimes. I saw Donald Trump, respond like a tinpot dictator to their fully reasonable requests. I was so shaken by the event that I made a video on it. I believe that this kind of evidence can cut through those doubting if racism really is as big of an issue as those marching relentlessly in the streets for a better world know that it is.
Some of you will instinctively pull away from scenes of such distressing nature. I try to remember that people have their own lives and many are barely treading water, even if they are managing to convince those around them that they are doing just fine. If you want a more palatable conceptual earthquake, this YouTube documentary caused one for my housemate. As the new information is struggling to be processed, and the brain realises it must rewire it’s entire machinery, our jaws slacken and we need time to recover. This is a natural and scientifically understood process.
Keep Calm and Carry On - Wikipedia
Unfortunately, they didn’t have our level of cognitive understanding and ease of communication back in the blitz. They were advised to keep a stiff upper lip. Don’t let the kids or anyone else see just how utterly destroyed by your emotions you are or it will harm them more. Keep calm and carry on. Have a drink to loosen yourself up. Stick the radio on and distractyourself. Unfortunately, kids see right through these deceptions that tend to only work on ourselves.
It shouldn’t be too hard to understand why we, as a nation, still have such utterly inadequate emotional coping mechanisms. Ignorance is the default mode. It takes active learning to dispel the darkness of ignorance. And in my experience ignorance is far from blissful.
Many of those who lived through these tough times and attended merciless schools will eagerly tell you what they think is wrong with education. They say, despite having never taught a day in their life, the problem with schools is that they aren’t “disciplining” (“assaulting”) the kids enough. They were beaten, and the terror that that imparted into them kept them on the straight and narrow.
This is utterly false, a product of well documented memory alteration that filters out negative experiences. Women who experience childbirth can never remember it in quite its full visceral sensation. All emotional reactions dampen the learning process. The cognitive overload that I spoke of earlier is reached exponentially quicker when our rational selves are hijacked by any level of negative emotional response. Much like those keeping calm and carrying on in the second world war, teachers and parents that take pride in instilling a culture of fear, only teach their kids masking strategies. If our education system wasn’t buckling under 8 years of being unable to recruit enough teachers, our schools could hire only those teachers can inspire hope, not those that inspire fear.
Behind the necessity of “keep calm and carry on” is a dark reality. There were unprecedented mental health tolls being wrought upon those desperately trying to maintain a facade of stiff upper lip and blitz spirit. But when mental health services were more dramatically more likely to have you imprisoned without trial, rather than give you the skills you need to survive, it is no wonder people put such incredible effort into developing a semblance of sanity.
We have not escaped this quite yet. Any society that demonises those with the “bad judgement” to “choose” to be born poor, ill, special needs or in any other way marginalised, still has such a terribly long way to go. The Nazis believed that the advancement of the human race depended on the eradication of these people. Auschwitz stands as a chilling reminder to the horrific immorality of any such political action.
And yet, somehow, we seem to have collectively forgotten that those atrocities were so bad that we threw ourselves into a conflict we could have avoided. Anyone professing even slightly fascistic views on race or genetic superiority, would probably have given Hitler their blessing.
Dominic Cummings is one such man. Behind the childish insistence that we move on (#notmovingon) is the unbelievable legacy of enshrining “genetic superiority” into our teaching system. I have documented clearly the many reasons this was wrong, and the awful consequences of their failure to listen to the teachers in classrooms. I’ve put forward a solution as to how we can, with very quick effect, begin to put things right. You can make this a reality by sharing my words with everyone you know, and beseeching them to do the same.
We exist within a society that systemically crushes all young people with needless exam anxiety (if you are likely to succeed) or worthlessness (if you are unlikely to). We exist within a society where the police do not have to answer for horrific abuses of their position while politicians lie and line their friends pockets with impunity. We exist within a system that despite knowing the scientific underpinnings of mental health, still offers an excruciating six month wait to those who need help mastering their own mind. The agony that befalls them during those six months is a consequence of every single person who is not prepared to speak out for common decency.
Many of those who would equivocate or dismiss calls for greater equality will do so out of their satisfaction with the status quo. They won’t say it explicitly, but it is hidden behind their choice to debate whether a statue, that they agree shouldn’t be up, should not have come down. It is hidden behind their satisfaction in owning a mortgage, and knowing that if there was a radical alteration of the system, it could see them losing out.
As ifhundreds of thousands of pounds of debt wasn’t anything more than modern day indentured servitude propped up by awful government policy. Some will follow along due to blind loyalty to their political identity. Some detest the status quo, but are caught by conspiracy theories, that use shoddy logic to make unsubstantiated claims of “culture wars” or “global elites” despite never having evidence for nearly the number of individuals required to control global systems. I find it hard to believe these claims. The “rich” people I have met or observed have mostly been concerned with accruing more money and experiencing the most exquisite sensory pleasures. They don’t care if John from his parents basement in Somerset is trying to expose the truth about 9/11.
The Panama papers showed us actual evidence that the richest in society are hoarding wealth offshore and completely getting away with it, and by owning most of the media, they continue to distract the populace with fear. Whether it is fear of a hard Brexit, fear of endless immigration (didn’t happen), or fear of having your favourite rugby song banned (it won’t be) The papers drum up endless fear because our human reaction to fear is research. It sells advertising and they never have to answer for the human mental health cost.
It is not unusual or a personal failing to be full of anxiety or sadness during a pandemic. Anxiety or depressive disorders are characterised by their prevalence during positive times.
Despite incredible global achievements that we must not forget, these are not positive times.
Our politicians have never been so flagrantly disrespectful of and dishonest to the amazing essential workers keeping the system running.
Our pandemic response has clearly been the worst in the world. They massage figures, lie about following science, and then double down, dismiss and lie again when the same scientists accuse them of dishonesty.
Despite most people fully understanding that you must finish a course of antibiotics to ensure an infection does not return, our government has not followed the same principle in addressing covid19. They see other countries opening up. These countries did not pursue a hare-brained plan of herd immunity that was grotesquely dangerous to those most vulnerable in society, and has done untold damage to those in our nations care homes, who deserved to see out their sunset years after doing their bit for society.
But in the grand act of trying to “keep up with the joneses,” (another British tradition of prioritising appearance over substance) they endanger the world. In Johnson’s own admission- 80% of infectors are asymptomatic. 1.5 million people are incredibly vulnerable. I am one of these people. I will have to be imprisoned in my house for far longer, due to Johnsons deceit and incompetence.
We are nowhere near r = 0. But most people trust in their government, and their declarations of diminished threats are being met with barbecues and a very grateful return to normality. If we see a second wave, it will be on 10 Downing street.
To me, it is this simple:
Fascists walk the street in America, hold the highest offices, and use war-crime level chemical weapons on those with the integrity to stand up for equality.
Inside number ten are fascists too, so we should have no surprise that they are determined to cozy up to Trump in the hope of being a good little lapdog for master.
Boris has never shown much in the way of integrity or self-respect, but plugging sugar-filled treats during a pandemic briefing is surely a new unthinkable low for what we have the temerity to still call “Great” Britain.
Sugar has a similar affect on children as crack-cocaine. But our sugar-profiting companies fought as tirelessly for Brexit as they did to make sure they didn’t lose the war of public opinion like when they were selling cigarettes.
Our nations children will pay the price if we respond with silence.
Every decent human being must oppose them.
We must educate them to see that which all humans have in common is so much more rich than that which divides us.
At the end of World War 2, we declared “Never again.”
To honour those that died to secure that, we must say the same again now.
If my words have stirred up a degree of hopelessness within you, I have made a video to help anyone in such a state.
Be your best self and join the fight against fascism alongside me, by sharing things that speak to your values, and creating whatever you can to help spread the message.
Josh Russell,
Russell Wellbeing.

A open letter to Labour from an unqualified teacher.

Dear Labour Education policy team,

In 2015, I quit my job to campaign for Luke Pollard in Plymouth. Following electoral defeat, I delayed my entry into politics. I expressed interest in becoming a teacher instead.

Department for Education policy will set you up with two weeks work experience before applying for a teacher training course. Within my first week of work experience I taught my first lesson and was offered a job as a supply teacher, and at the end of my second week I was made a full time maths teacher, despite no qualifications, training or experience in either education or maths.

This is the Conservatives ghastly legacy of demonising Unions while ever-increasing the demands upon teachers in pursuit of global league table success.

Ironically – this pursuit has tragically backfired. We are now in the eighth year of the teacher recruitment crisis. Our results do not show much gain for this direction either – in 2019 we were 14th in the world for reading, 14th for science and 18th for maths. We can do so much better.

The crisis means that all across the country, schools are failing to recruit the incredible and inspiring teachers every student deserves. For eight years.

Instead – many schools are barely able to fill their vacancies, taking literally whoever is available – even if they are woefully unprepared for the role.

This is a huge affront to equality and a huge factor in our nation’s mental health crisis.

It is hard to stay as angry as we should be over a crisis that has lasted eight years, but the figures do not lie, and the timespan of these issues only deepens my dread.

A driving force of the global league table results obsession are the changes made by Gove and Cummings, based on ghastly beliefs in “genetic superiority” as detailed here.

I’ve also written on the blind political loyalty that has kept decent Conservative voices from speaking out against this catastrophe, that all involved know is harming student futures.

I have been researching solutions to the problem however. We must do more than criticise we must set forth a clear plan of action, I detail the context and plan in detail in an open letter to Gavin Williamson here.

My plan is this:

1.  Accept that a plan prioritising results cannot work without teachers to fill every classroom.

We can only succeed in education by making the role of a teacher one that teachers delight in. We have not had that in much longer than 8 years, but now it is interminable. It is exacerbated by constant attacks by the government on Unions and teachers who are working their butts off to try to tread water working impossible 60 hour weeks. Let teachers, instead of government Bozos, focus on student grades and they will achieve them.

2. Scrap Ofsted.

They are the enforcing arm of the governments mad grade target obsession and a driving force on the negative atmosphere (inspections drive a culture of fear) and workload (endlessly changing arbitrary demands) in schools. Why would some government Bozo in an office somewhere. who has never taught a class in his life, know better than an experienced teacher of 30 years in a classroom? If we were not in the eighth year of a crisis, I might be willing to listen to counter-arguments – but the data is clear, this is a total failure.

3. Take the existing framework of Ofsted and turn it into an advisory body.

They can still support schools and give them the coaching they need to succeed. Ofsted has a huge wealth of education knowledge in their staff, but they currently enforce nonsense and fail to help the schools in the way they would like to. Schools that do not have to fear Ofsted will be able to contact them for help should they need it. No school wants to fail their students, but at the moment Ofsted is the grim reaper of education. In the current system Ofsted exerts top down fear and pressure, that filters and amplifies through head teachers, middle leaders, teachers and eventually students. This must be replaced with a culture of support and coaching, which we know is far more effective.

4. Use Ofsted to train up local governors to hold schools to account.

Ofsted currently cannot do a good job on accountability due to the practicality of short inspections. Governors, familiar with the local area, school and students, are much better placed and motivated to hold schools to account. They can still ensure government dictats are met, without schools having to exist facing the horror of an Ofsted inspection.

5. Fund education properly.

Teachers are creatives who need time to create incredible learning experience. Currently a teacher can expect to have 10% of their time dedicated to preparation – this is woefully inadequate for what the job now entails. We must do better by our teachers and students. I recommend doubling this to 20% or 25%. Some systems have up to 50%. This will allow teachers to better manage the hours of dynamic interactive performance that constitutes classroom teaching. Give the most amazing teachers enough time to plan the most amazing lessons, and we will see incredible results.

6. As teachers return, we must allow schools to diversify.

One size does not fit all in our education system, variation is the human norm. Give schools the freedom to really specialise in arts, sports or trades. Let parents decide what schools most closely reflect their values and reap the benefits of diversity. The academic pathway is not one that all students should be forced into. Some students do need pushing, but others do not. The only person qualified to make this decision are the teachers that interact with them on a daily basis. This will allow schools to build systems for the future with the latest science and technology – which will be vital for our students to master.

I would love to help shape Labour Policy in this area.

Our students deserve better and I’m going to raise hell until the system is fixed.

Kind regards,

Joshua Russell

Russell Wellbeing.

An open letter to Gavin Williamson from an unqualified teacher.

Dear Gavin Williamson

I’m writing to you because I think that you could be the man who saves Britain. I see the potential of a bright political future for you, and will set out a ten step plan of action. If you want to skip my damning indictment of current education policy and get straight so solutions, please do, I tend to get carried away when I’m passionate.

I applaud the recent government U-turn on deciding not to ignore the awful starvation reality that faced our nation’s most vulnerable children. With collaborative efforts, good people have decreased the global starvation rate to just 11%, down from 28% in the 1970s. It would be abhorrent to fail the global effort by ignoring those starving in our own country. But while we are acknowledging the plight of children whose poor fortune to be born into less luxurious circumstances than you or I, let’s talk about how this pandemic has affected those students who most need the structure and opportunity of school.

I will admit I was surprised, Gavin. It is good to see that behind the government’s display of incompetent bravado and outright dishonesty in the handling of education, Brexit and the pandemic, there is a suggestion of at least one molecule of empathy. I hope to persuade you not to immediately rebury your conscience, as surely you must have done prior to acknowledging children don’t deserve to starve due to systemic failure to address poverty. Now that your eyes have been opened to the glaring moral deficiency of such a situation, we really do need to discuss the catastrophic failure of the wider educational system. It is now eight years of failure to recruit enough teachers to be in classrooms. That means for eight years, we have not been employing the finest teaching workforce. In stark contrast to other countries, our teaching workforce does not even stretch wide enough to give every classroom the teacher it needs. I’ll assume your response here is “Gosh Russell Wellbeing, YouTube sensation, how did we get here and how can I fix it?” Let’s start with those same students we just decided not to starve.

Many of these children will still be in states of severe distress due to exam pressure. Exams that you (Gavin Williamson), I (Russell Wellbeing, YouTube sensation), as well as every teacher and parent know, are not the be all and end all of life. Many will have extremely unsafe home lives where they must sacrifice their childhood to care for family. Many have undiagnosed special educational needs. Many have severe mental health needs. Many will have all of the above and a whole host of other problems too. These kids are at the mercy of an educational system that is a crumbling relic of a Victorian workhouse past, held together by the few remaining teachers strong enough to weather impossible 60hr/week conditions.

I recently had almost 200,000 views on a tweet sharing an article from 2013 about how Michael Gove and Dominic Cummings set a clear direction for education.

1
This is not a popular, scientific or ethically justifiable argument.

This guardian article indicates that the direction they set was based on Cummings views on “genetic superiority.” This was reported in the Guardian in 2013, and has contributed to the horrific failure of the last eight years of education policy. When Gove’s new “more challenging” maths GCSE was released, four years into the eight year recruitment crisis, it saw GCSE pass levels awarded for just 16% in the paper. Shaun, the teacher in the classroom next to mine declared in disbelief, if you only knew 16% of his name you’d not even have “S”. But the reality of these changes, and the consistent dramatically negative feedback from teachers having to follow these guidelines, was given absolutely no importance. Below is a question from the new foundation paper, Gavin. Can you answer it? This is from the “easy” paper, Gavin. We make children with severe special needs take this exam 3 times, and declare them to be a failure every time they don’t pass.

2
Now imagine trying to console a student with severe emotional damage who is crying their eyes out because their test results told them they were a failure. It isn’t right.

Your relentless push for using data to extract every last ounce of progress has brutalised students by putting them through regimented regular testing starting from as early as six years old. (Year one). Six year olds do not need to be tested Gavin. Eleven year olds do not need to be put in after-school and holiday “interventions.” They do not need to assemblies that tell them if they do not succeed in SATS that will affect their secondary setting and therefore they will get bad grades, no job and fail at life. To present that as a truthful or accurate narrative to an eleven year old child should be a criminal offence.

And yet this is standard practice at many primary and secondary schools. Fear is a powerful motivator and it gets kids better results, an easy win if you actively ignore the severe mental health impact. It is a powerful motivator for teachers too, reforms you brought in mean that teachers must be afraid of not receiving pay rises for high enough grades, even when they have only just joined the profession. They must also be afraid of being deemed “unsatisfactory,” a label that only destroys the spirits of teachers and schools alike, a “Sword of Damocles” above the delicate and nonlinear process of improvement.

The science is clear, Gavin, on how much damage these practices are doing to our current students. I have sat in university lectures and been told that as many as 33% of our students in our classrooms may be self-harming, and how we need to look for the signs. I added it to the awareness list which includes also being a constant watchman for any signs of bullying, grooming, radicalisation, gang activity, drug activity, negligence, mental health and undiagnosed special educational needs. The constant moment to moment inspection for any sign of the previous does slightly interfere with trying to teach trigonometry to twelve year olds but one needs to rush through the curriculum if we are to cover everything. If we miss anything out it could be our fault that all our students fail. But you can rest your worried conscience, Gavin, as the wealthier kids will have it patiently explained one to one by a tutor. The really wealthy family’s kids will be at a private school that will be free of interference from some government bozo sat in an office somewhere who has never taught a day in their life.

I beseech you to embark upon a small amount of research into the science underpinning the moment to moment functioning of our brains as they generate our conscious reality. A quick search (preferably on a search engine that pays tax) will lead you to Lisa Feldman Barrett’s incredible TED talk or book “how emotions are made.”

3
This will fully blow your mind and change how you understand your brain. Exceptional work from an incredible scientist.

It will provide you the exact context for how the presentation of these untruths condition our nation’s children into obsessing over the rate of their academic progress. Particularly on how they differ from governmental targets that take no consideration for the divergent pathways of child development. But we have to relentlessly test and collect data as bad results can mean Ofsted show up unannounced like the grim reaper, looking for careers to scythe down in the school’s that struggle to turn their students into the most efficient fact repeating robots.

Why do students with severe special needs, who are inevitably going to struggle with the new challenging maths GCSE, get forced to do it by government edict? Why are all students forced to repeat them again twice when we know only one in six will achieve a passing grade on retake. The ones who retake are inevitably the ones who would have retaken by choice. But those without the skills required to study will face the punishment of being placed in the “failed group” and will sit and redo those exams the following year. Those without the grades they feel they need will find themselves isolated from their peers at a very sensitive time in their lives. I know this because my best friend from secondary school killed himself while retaking his exams. The school system successfully convinced him that life was not worth living without getting A grades. It did not convince him that he could achieve them. He chose oblivion instead. I remember the final time I spoke to him on the phone. So excited to talk about my life, I forgot to ask how he was doing.

If the way I describe the system sounds abhorrent and you doubt that the problem could really be as severe as I say, check out this article that details the failure:

4
Responses to my question in the order they were given: failure to be supported, workload, failure of school to support again, Ofsted, leadership and Ofsted, government guidelines, low respect and pay, impossible government expectations, 50-60 hour working weeks, testing culture, lack of trust in teachers, DfE nonsense, 60 hour work weeks again, underpaid vs other STEM jobs, limited flexible working conditions, drowning in assessment and marking, government interference, workload and low pay and not enough support from school.

We are now approaching eight years of missed recruitment targets. Behind the atrocious numbers are all kind of coping measures schools have introduced – placing all the responsibilities I listed above on people who are vastly underqualified for the role. I know this because I turned up for two weeks work experience and found that by the end of two weeks, I’d been begged to fill a full teaching vacancy the school could not fulfil. It should come as no surprise that teachers are leaving a comprehensive system that has not evolved beyond its Victorian workhouse origins. Some schools must treat their students like prisoners just to maintain order. Morbid situations horrifically exacerbated by a complete failure to respond to the crying need for adequate mental health service provision.

5
Every teaching post that fails to recruit, has to make due with whoever is on hand. Ask yourself – if a school only has one applicant – with a questionable past, but no other options, whose responsibility is it if a child gets hurt?

Living in the 24 hour news era is stressful and despite huge technological leaps that enable access to the sum total knowledge of the human race and connection to more people than at any time in history, many feel completely disconnected. The percentage of our population on antidepressants is shocking. Our school system is part of where this problem is created. It takes six months to get an appointment for mental health. I know well the excruciating consequences of this wait, and the extent of damage it can because I experienced it, and my students education suffered for it at a time when they needed me most. I knew exactly what I needed and already had a diagnosis. But my doctor could not prescribe the necessary medication, and convinced me to try anxiety medication. This was to allay the crushing reality of very appropriate anxiety having been given more responsibility than my experience or ability warranted. If we didn’t have a recruitment crisis, I could have taken the time I needed to recover off, knowing the students would have had a reliable replacement. But our country cannot hire enough teachers, so I dragged myself in on days I should have stayed home.

In the face of more responsibility than I could handle, I was desperate to see those relying on me succeed. I researched endlessly new teaching books and self development books to try to be a strong enough teacher that would see every single student he taught succeed. But there are no easy shortcuts. The only way to improve is by years of practice and training by those who have had that practice. The exhilarating but exhausting classroom teaching only ever gets easier and more enjoyable, yet the current governmental policies drive our most experienced teachers away. Schools actively search for experienced teachers, but the policy in addressing the recruitment crisis is to aggressively advertise throwing bursaries of up to £30,000 to convince new graduates to train to teach. There’s no obligation on them to ever step foot in a classroom. I know this because I’m receiving that bursary. I might get denied my qualification for speaking out here. Apparently, it’s not professional for a teacher to complain about the politics directly causing students and teachers to suffer for no benefit. But if that’s the price I pay for fighting for this nation’s children I’ll happily pay it. I’m not prepared to go back into the classroom until the system is fixed. Every year we see many of the most experienced and dynamic teachers leave the profession they adore crushed with outrageous workload, responsibility, and micromanagement.

All of these are enforcing your government’s barmy obsession with global League table success for the lowest possible tax cost. Education is an investment. Investing in a world class education system means greater opportunities for every student in the country, who will be the wonderful taxpayers and nasty tax avoiding businessmen of the future. They will be the ones creating the biggest budget films, music, and other artworks of all history to date. They need a system built in nurturing them to trust in themselves and to look for the opportunities that fit with their passions. I have led young enterprise workshops where I taught street selling to a variety of students, who would then go out and make ten times their pocket money in one day.

Focusing on a narrow but ever-expanding curriculum actively gets in the way of these formative events. My proudest moment of my teaching career was a trip to parliament with the debate club. I gave up what precious little time and money I had to run that club, because I knew it made a difference to the students. Standing in the hall of parliament with my best and brightest students, I told them I honestly believed that they could one day stand in that hall, if they invested in themselves and pursued their dreams. The trick with a statement like that is that you must mean it. But I do genuinely believe that one voice can change a conversation. That if one voice can inspire others to join the cause, change can be achieved. Especially when that cause is the fact that every year for the past eight years, we have not only failed to recruit the best from a range of applicants, we still do not even have enough applicants to fill every position. Every parent, student, teacher, and decent human being should care about this. It doesn’t have to be this way. If you agree with my evaluation, help me share my experience.

That’s the good news Gavin. You can still be a hero. You can lay all the blame on the muppets that have been asleep at the wheel of education, actively ignoring and often directly exacerbating this crucial issue. You know who I mean, the ones pretending unions are some evil cash hungry monsters instead of the collective voice of our nation’s teachers crying out that policy decisions were crushing the aspirations of the next generation. You might want to act fast though, because the general pandemic handling ineptitude may well rub off on you, especially as you clearly are not listening to the concerns of the teachers who will have to be in those unsafe and understaffed classrooms. Even more so if you now expect the school system that could not staff classes of thirty, now to staff classes of fifteen. But it can Gavin, that is the brilliant thing! You can choose to stop the UK from pursuing the utter failure that is the current business as usual education policy. You can come clean about how shameful it is that you haven’t been able to get teachers for eight years and promise to put that right.

Getting it right isn’t that difficult. There are some fabulously easy changes you can make that would unite teachers, students and the parents who hatred their experience of school, who dread forcing their children into the same system that crushed them. There are many places in the world where this does not happen, and here’s how you do it:

  1. Public apology (this step is important, if you do it without the public apology it won’t look sincere)
  2. Throw the rest of the cabinet under the bus. Anyone can see the pandemic response has been catastrophic, but you will soon be the hero who saved the education system! Could be the next prime minister, personally I don’t think Sunak will be able to hack the top role anyway and at this point it feels almost cruel to see Boris wheeled out for the briefings and weekly beatdowns at an unnecessarily physical seating of PMQs
  3. Scrap the obsession with global League tables. Those League tables will be best dominated by making teaching an amazingly attractive profession with the most brilliantly talented staff. How can we compete on league tables when those charged with STEM education are often without STEM qualifications? But to get those staff to trust you, you are going to have to…
  4. Scrap Ofsted. I know that it is of great importance to hear how many schools fit into your little “who’s done the best box ticking” exercises that report every year better box ticking (a process streamlined by “academizing” those that are not ticking boxes.) It is the driving force behind the exam hell culture that is driving teachers away and students to suicide. It enforces a culture of inspection and distrust that ruins lives of teachers, students and parents. Now I hear you cry “We can’t do that Russell Wellbeing, you incredibly smart and handsome man, we have to check all schools are minutely micromanaged for the benefit of the students; what if a school doesn’t follow our minute micromanagement and doesn’t adequately train teachers in rural Wales to know how to spot Muslim extremism?” And I have an answer for that, you just have to…
  5. Take the existing framework of Ofsted and make it an advisory and supportive body. They will have the primary duty of training up local school governors, who are those charged with holding schools to account. They will have far more time and motivation to regulate, as well as having a much better understanding of the context of that local area. You can still release your barmy nationwide guidance, and they can check to see it is implemented in all its demented shortsightedness. Ofsted’s staff has such a wealth of incredible experience, without the fear of closure, schools that need help will be eager to ask and receive the coaching that can bring their students success. Schools do not want to fail students and will reach out for help if they know they will be supported. Ofsted will heartily appreciate this change as their current role is incredibly anxiety inducing for all involved and they want to see the education system be able to actually recruit enough teachers.
  6. Now, by this point Gavin, you’ll likely be Prime Minister, by virtue of being the only cabinet member who looks like he has any semblance of a plan of how to fix any of the policy areas the conservatives have been strip mining and disrespecting for the last ten years. But to really carve your place in history Gavin, you say that you are fixing education to promote equality. Say that you are doing this all because of the black lives matter campaign. The far right nationalists who are monosyllabically grunting for Brexit and attacking the police may be upset at first, seeing black people being treated like equal members of society. But in time they will love it too because they remember exactly how worthless the exam system made them feel and they don’t want to inflict the same on their kids.
  7. Bring the nation together by acknowledging that there can be some level of compromise on Brexit without betraying the nation. Deliver on the democratic mandate of Leave campaign promises to remain in the single market. Work on securing some sort of fast track and discounted visa system to find one tiny grain of pacification to the 48% who voted for Remain, but ultimately thought it was obnoxiously inappropriate to put such a complex issue to a public referendum. Especially when the machinations of companies like Cambridge Analytica are now public knowledge. It will also set at ease many of the 52% who voted Brexit because they thought it was a “safer option” or wanted a properly funded NHS, but who are now completely panicking at the introduction of substandard US produce and their desire for the ability to veto our other trade deals, or the prospect of rising prices at the start of the deepest recession in my lifetime and for a long while before. They might find it easier to keep believing the lies about how we were going to get easy trade deals, if they know they can still secure a fast ticket out of town if it does get dicey (like, for example, if the government looked the other way while gangs of fascists were roaming the street and attacking picnickers in London.)
  8. Having sorted out exams and Brexit, you will double down on your reputation as the “heroic saviour of Britain” and announce that you will fund education properly. Give even more to teachers by announcing to double their planning time. With the influx of teachers you will not struggle to fill these vacancies and by giving teachers the time to create incredible lessons and plan life-changing trips, you will do more than anyone else for our nations children. In teaching, there is so much that is more important than spending fifteen hours a week endlessly marking books that the kids will barely look at. Let teachers plan lessons that give students the kind of business skills that can make them one day consider hiring an accountant to “sort out” their taxes.
  9. Speaking of sorting out taxes, the public has not forgotten about the Panama papers, and the Cummings debacle should make clear to everyone that the entire system is undermined by anyone refusing to play their part. With the money that you generate by simply collecting the incredibly competitive corporation taxes, you will be able to drive the deficit down, achieving what the Tories have repeatedly promised but ultimately failed to do for what is now ten years. I am a maths teacher so I’ll illustrate with a nice graph the utter failure to fulfil those promises. People want to know where all this money went Gavin. We are more in debt than ever and our public services have never been more strapped for cash. Someone needs to address this horrifying graph. The Conservatives pitched themselves as “safe economic hands” but in ten years have completely failed to bring down the debt at all.7So we need to collect taxes but you may be worried about businesses leaving, because those businesses have been telling their mates in the media that if anyone asks them to pay tax they will leave. Bolstered by your adoring public, you will have the strength to tell Amazon that if they don’t want to pay tax they can “do one” because you know British entrepeneurs who are happy to pay tax and will register the domain name “westhamazon.co.uk” quicker than you could nip down to the devastated high street that Amazon destroyed. Any business that doesn’t want to pay tax isn’t helping the system and the vast majority of the public could not be more sickened by the failure to ensure everyone pays their fair share.
  10. Do a few shoutouts for my YouTube channel. By this point you will be the greatest politician of all time and you should give something back. So far I’ve had to come up with all the ideas. You’ll have to take it from there.

Students, parents, Europhiles, racists and teachers alike will sing your name in exaltation. They will call for national holidays in your honour. I’ll write a song in your honour and release it on my Youtube channel that I keep shoehorning into this letter. They will put up a statue of you and protesters won’t even want to pull it down, despite a largely chequered past of allegations of breaches in ministerial conduct, clear incompetence in dealing with both Russia and China during your time in the ministry of defence, and being instrumental in organising the DUP bung that enabled the continuation of May’s shambolic government.

But don’t worry about all those past failures, because with me running strategy, just like Churchill you will only be remembered for the good things you did and anyone who tries to bring up your questionable past will be denounced on the news for not being patriotic enough.

The days of you coming across like a Tarantula-owning Bond villain with will be a thing of the past. Maybe your ex -teacher wife will finally properly forgive you for your past indiscretions! I assume you managed to convince her that it would never happen again. I hope that you will take the same line on failing to recruit enough teachers, it is time to say “never again” to that too.

Kind regards,

Joshua Russell.

Twitter: @russellwellbe

Youtube: Russell Wellbeing

Other projects

The problem with blind political loyalty.

Let’s start with a controversial statement. There is no such thing as not being interested in politics. Not being interested in politics does not stop you paying taxes or having those taxes spent on covering up police brutality. Looking away just makes you ignorant and vulnerable to manipulation from anyone who wants to take advantage of you. In America we have seen the most divisive president ever unleash tear gas – a war crime level chemical weapon – on peaceful protesters. This is a fact. You should have an opinion on this. Backed by those more loyal to their career and news organisations that care only about their ratings rather than their impact in the world, the blind loyalists decided not even to hear the evidence against Trump in his impeachment indictment. American citizens have been unforgivably and comprehensibly failed. In their wilful inability to hold the highest office in the land to account, they are complicit in the atrocities that happened in lieu of the reform protesters sought.

Across the pond in the UK, we have seen previously vociferous “champions of democracy” when attacking the European Union circumventing common sense and reason in pursuing unnecessary physical meetings for parliament instead of excellent socially distant options. There are rumours that this is for the political theatre of braying MPs to support Johnson’s decades-long bumbling charade being crushed by calm and clear questions he is incapable of answering, after getting annihilated by Yvette Cooper on the liaison committee. Others suggest that Johnson’s latest flagrant disrespect for democracy is based on the fact that bullying MPs into betraying their consciences and constituents is harder to implement when they are in their constituencies, far away from the Westminster bubble and threats of career ending consequences. It appears it could be due to a desire to push for a no deal Brexit that Johnson is unambiguously on the record as opposing. Whatever the cause, every citizen of this country should be aware and very concerned of the impact of this undermining of democracy regardless of which party or political figure they support.

Human beings naturally tend towards tribal groups. We are a species with an innate need for connection and our connections form a large part of our identity. Friends, family, and football teams are just some of the ways we experience this connection. Once the connections are formed and firm, we do not want to hinder the work of the group we are connected to. But with our politicians we cannot allow inherent cognitive biases to ruin the important task of governance. It is the duty of every voting citizen to hold their public officials to the highest account in matters of integrity and strategy. Those who say, “All politicians are rubbish!” Are not only factually incorrect (and making a completely unverifiable claim,) but are in fact normalising corrosive ineptitude in those we must trust to lead our country. To be blindly loyal to any political figure or party is incredibly naive. Citizens and politicians alike can be expected to do better.

The Brexit debate has left our country utterly divided. But the role of the Prime Minister is to bring the nation together in compromise. To listen to both sides, and create a plan that leaves as few people bereft as can possibly be achieved. I voted to remain, but following the referendum knew we had to respect democracy and follow through. Political trust is hard to earn, harder still to maintain and very easily lost. As we lose political trust there is real human cost – radical groups such as fascists, terrorist groups and antivaxxers are bolstered by the spectre of a cold, uncaring and morbidly narcissistic government that decent people have no ability to control. But this too is a lie. Anyone who has thrown themselves into local politics knows that the system is flawed but malleable. Getting involved does further your cause, as those that pulled a statue down can attest to. Delivering on the referendum promises to retain access to the common market, while ensuring those who love Europe can have visas fast tracked and discounted, could have brought us all together and proved that the opinion of the people mattered. To pursue a no deal Brexit after continuously denying it would ever happen is the ultimate betrayal.

Beyond that, the government has shown themselves to be utterly callous in both their pandemic response and press briefings. Filmed advocating for letting the virus “move through the population”, before being strong armed into lockdown by France threatening to implement a travel ban, Johnson declared that his government was following the science. Except, as we have heard this week, the science declared that lockdown was advised to be implemented two weeks before action was taken, a failure that cost an estimated 25,000 lives. In pursuing the relaxation of lockdown, the science is again ignored, scientists removed from daily briefings and sacked for refusing to back Dominic Cummings after he flagrantly broke the rules he helped author. But like the unelected bureaucrats that were a key component of the Brexit arguments, when the public outcry reached a staunch 66% supporting his dismissal, Johnson again let the country down. He responded by sending all his cabinet members out to treat us like unruly schoolchildren questioning a wise teacher and told everyone to “Move on.” It became clear that the public’s opinion did not matter, and the disingenuous Brexit narrative of citizens “Doing the country down.” was repeated. With a depressing efficiency of political strategy for Johnson, he pretty much used the “Move on” dismissal against Black Lives Matter too, while staying conspicuously silent on criticising the horrific police brutality happening in America. We are too weak to even secure a halfway competent trade deal even without criticising the narcissist in chief: those representing us in negotiations are poised to accept a deal that lets them veto any other trade deal we do.

The Labour party, who I am a longstanding member of, is not guiltless in the arena of blind loyalty. Factionalism and intersectional marginalisation are the biggest internal issues we face. There is an ongoing investigation by the European Equality and Human Rights Commission, the evidence to which the party submitted is not up to the standards we should demand. It declares that no party official has any Antisemitic views, or any issue with the discussion of Antisemitic views, and that the recent changes in party procedure ensure no marginalisation of any group can ever happen again. This is hopelessly naive, especially as they centre their counter argument on factionalism and accuse officials (several pending lawsuits) of playing political football instead with Antisemitic complaints rather than addressing them. They then go on to spend 800+ pages doing the exact same thing by focusing on factionalism and ignoring Antisemitism. Anyone who would do such an action would have to have a horrific disregard for Antisemitic concerns, and would be committing heinously Antisemitic acts. Any party member pursuing these factional goals at the expense of marginalised members needs to be expelled. But those in charge of the report could not make this link as they had no idea what they were looking for. The evolving discourse of the last few weeks shows us that intersectional implicit biases and systemic injustice are crucial barriers to an inclusive society. We can and must do better. The spreading of lies claiming that all moderates are plotting to scupper Jeremy was exactly the sort of nonsense that made moderates lose interest in aiding the cause.

It baffles me that those who spoke out most fervently and angrily about “Blairite scum” needing to “get behind our leader” now call for active disruption of Party efforts. It is hypocrisy of the highest order, and leads to some incredibly influential voices for equality actively aiding the hopeless Conservative party that hold office today by spending their energy on relentless in-party criticism, often without any evidence. On the day of the #allstatuesmatter protests I saw a tweet blaming James O’Brien for the far-right protests turning violent, due to his lack of support of Jeremy Corbyn. These ridiculous arguments do not hold up and act as apologists for the prominent politicians and influencers who fanned the flames of nationalism, and I told him as much. They are putting their identity, tied fast to Corbyn’s flag, above the ideals that led them to his politics. I beseech you to call this out wherever you see it with the same energy that you counter horrific racism apologists. We must not forget what is at stake solely as a result of losing the previous election. The leadership of any group must be accountable for the performance when it mattered most, whether that was years of failing Antisemitism complainants or in the consecutive electoral defeats.

Our education system has spent eight years gasping for air under austerity politics – unable to convince teachers to complete the job our country desperately needs them to do with eight years of missed recruitment targets. Burnt out by higher demands than almost any other country’s education system, our best teachers leave and are replaced by those the government bribes into education with tens of thousands of pounds worth of bursaries. I know this because I’ve received that money this year. I have no obligation to ever return to a classroom. Several people I know have directed anger at me for suggesting I do not want to teach full time. They direct their anger at me instead of the awful government policies, promoted by a government they still blindly support.

But education is not the only area struggling to breathe after the financial austerity chokehold. The health system is also hamstrung by recruitment issues amplified by Brexit policy and a six month wait for mental health appointments that those waiting can ill afford to have delayed. I know this because I have had to endure that wait with horrific personal consequences. Our country’s systems of justice have also been mishandled; our court proceedings are an expensive adversarial relic that needs to be updated with an investigative system of fair representation instead of the destructive legal aid changes we have seen. Justice is failed again on the beat where there are fewer police, and many are tarnished with systemic failings in accountability in dealing with marginalised groups. Even the economy, that we have been repeatedly informed was safe in Conservative hands, seems to be heading into the most extreme recession after failing to ever really recover from the global downturn in 2008 (that the conservatives maliciously and dishonestly blamed Gordon Brown for at the same time he was receiving global awards for his handling of.) There has never been a more important time to rally behind those who can hold the government to account and encourage conservative MPs to serve their consciences and constituents.

Everyone has an opinion on these issues. Everyone has a stake in the political process. We know that failing to educate increases crime and forces people to seek benefits. After World War 2 we had lost so many lives and faced a brutal recession. But we followed Keynesian economics and built our way out. Our public services, like education, are investments. They pay off for every single child who gets the best education they can have. Parents who have had to home school during this pandemic have a newfound appreciation for quite how hard but important these societal roles are. But that was not all we did to survive World War 2. We declared “Never again” and created the organisation that would become the European Union. It sought to irreversibly force France and Germany’s economies together so that they could not ever war again. We must say never again to having our public services be so weak and underfunded during a period of economic growth, that directly twisted the knife in the wounds caused by the pandemic. We must look at how we can enshrine a firm declaration of political integrity, opportunity, and equality into our political system forever.

As a party we must acknowledge that whatever caused the many, many failings found in the reporting system from 2014-2018, the job of most vital importance is to take solid action against intersectional marginalisation and introduce a strong code of ethics that governs interactions at every level of the party. We cannot denounce inequality, thuggery and bullying without working towards better handling of these issues ourselves. In demonstrating our commitment to these ideals now we show clearly what the public can expect from us in office – a party that listens, serves all and ensures a better future for every citizen in the country we all love enough, to want to improve.

Follow me on twitter.com/russellwellbe

For more info on my other projects check out http://www.linktr.ee/russellwellbeing

A broken system

******* Pre-read warning *******

This is a subjective account of my experience with wanting to become a maths teacher. The path I took led me straight into some of the most underfunded and overstretched schools in this country.

I do believe that to some extent the issues I talk about here are relevent in a great number of schools around the country. Examination pressure is incredibly widespread even in good schools.

In places my actions were clearly not the correct choices and with hindsight I wish that I had not accepted the offer of cover supervisor work and had pursued a proper university led program.

It is a long piece and I have aimed for it to be exactly as honest as I can remember, in the interest of sharing the madness I went through.

******* End of warning *******

When I was 18 two life-changing things happened.

The first is that through a family contact I got an internship in the House of Commons and got to work right alongside the amazing man who is now the “Speaker of the House of Commons.”

The second is that my best and only friend killed himself over exam results.

After a lonely childhood in a world that kept demanding I stop being ADHD, no matter how impossible that was for me, I was diagnosed with the incurable disease Crohn’s Colitis. This is a disease that the NHS classifies as giving you a “miserable quality of life.”

I chose to go home at lunch time almost every day, in too much physical pain to endure the emotional exhaustion of wandering around the playground facing rejection and isolation from group after group of students who seemed somehow fluent in the social languages that were an inscrutable mystery to me.

The year after I left, while I was working in the house of commons, my best and only friend, who was supposed to be retaking his exams, killed himself because he thought he would fail them again. He got good grades, but our grammar school had told us we needed to get all As. I always saw my GCSE results as embarrassing until I one day saw the exact same grades celebrated as an achievement on a poster at a school I taught at.

I will remember, until my dying day, the priest at his funeral saying “being a teenager can sometimes be like walking a tightrope over a rocky abyss. Not every teenager makes it to the other side.”

I will remember crying, with no control over my body, until I had no more tears left to cry.

I will remember hugging his distraught parents and sister.

I had no words.

Sometimes the only thing you can do is hold someone near and share in their heartbreak and grief.

I will remember pouring my first glass of single malt whisky just to numb that pain.

On that day I wanted to burn the entire ghastly system down.

I was planning on travelling the world. I couldn’t, I cancelled, crumbled and cowed away from the world.

But I knew that I wanted to see the whole broken system fixed.

I stopped taking the ADHD medication that kept me up all night with my grief.

I did a degree in politics but couldn’t put full effort in without access to my medication.

No matter how many times I went out at university and tried to drown my sorrows it did not make the pain go away.

I remember watching a documentary that said, “when people commit suicide, it is common for those they leave behind to develop depression.”

I did not connect the dots though.

Depression was something that happened to other people.

Not me.

I knew, when I graduated, that at 23 I was not ready to go into politics. I suspected that there was so much more about the world that I needed to learn before I would be able to be the version of myself that could make things right.

After university, I became a fundraiser and learned how to communicate the need for hope and action, and even giving bank details to a stranger on the street – It showed me people out there did really want make the world a better place, they just had to be shown how.

I overcame the social boundaries that had always held me back as a child. I now know that children with ADHD develop social skills at a slower rate and it is almost ubiquitous for them to develop crushingly low self-esteem.

I wish someone had told me.

After a couple years of hard work mastering fundraising, I quit my job to campaign for Luke Pollard, who is now shadow secretary for the environment.

My fundraising skills saw me given responsibility fast – I was a natural campaigner and I stood by Luke’s side knocking on doors and making phone calls to constituents.

I was put in Luke’s group for all of polling day, zoomed around town with his sister in a convertible, full of hopeful energy.

I called “ONWARD” to keep up our energy 12 hours into the day’s campaigning with another hour still to go, and sat with fellow campaigners in Lockyer Hall all through the night, which I had been asked to oversee.

That night, my heart broke twice.

My Grandma, who had always believed in how amazing I was and had spoilt me rotten, passed away from her battle with Lewis Body dementia.

I had been waiting to finish the campaign before I got to see her. I did not get my chance to say goodbye.

I hope that she would understand that I felt like I was doing something so important.

The second heartbreak was even worse.

We saw Cameron re-elected.

When we lost the 2015 election. After horrific education changes that we now know were masterminded by Dominic Cumming’s views on genetic superiority, things were worse than ever and the economy, which was the

ONE THING

that they promised

THEY KNEW HOW TO SORT OUT

and it was

STILL IN TATTERS

with the government

STILL

blaming it on Labour rather than the entire world

THAT ALSO HAD A FINANCIAL CRASH BECAUSE OF A LACK OF REGULATION OF BANKERS IN AMERICA THAT LITERALLY NEVER GOT FIXED.

I could not see how the public could back the conservatives to lead with a majority.

I gave up on politics.

Instead, I directed my life towards education.

I looked for the opportunity to get into education so that at least, I could make sure no student I taught would ever have to face the same wretched, hopeless end as my best and only friend did.

Universities say that you must do 2 weeks work experience before you apply for a teacher training course.

It is a sensible policy to stop people from applying for teacher training before knowing what it is like.

I wanted to do things properly. I wanted to be the best teacher I could be for my students.

On my two week unpaid work experience to get a sense of what schools are like, I observed classroom after classroom of belligerent students not listening and not learning, while their teachers pretended not to notice, or, more alarmingly, just did not care.

In response to these students, some teachers developed extreme coping measures.

I saw a teacher tear a kid to pieces, to a literal blubbering teary mess, because he had not done ONE homework.

Once the kid was crying, the teacher finally deigned to ask the student why he had not done his homework.

Through the tears, the student weakly responded “my mum threw me a birthday party and I forgot”

The teacher then spent another 15 minutes laying into the student for laziness and saying that he always did his work on his birthday.

I refused to ever go back in that man’s classroom.

I thanked my lucky stars, that, unlike his students, I had the ability to do so.

On my fourth day of work experience, a teacher left me alone with a class for 5 minutes.

I stood at the front like a lemon while he talked to a student outside, but it was so exciting!

The students were eager to learn and it felt amazing.

On my sixth day I taught a lesson on the charity Oxfam – about how much farmers get from the price of a banana. It isn’t much – 3p on a 30p banana. The students were fascinated, and I knew teaching was going to be something I love.

On my seventh day a colleague told me he would get a £100 bonus if I signed up with an agency to be a cover supervisor or teaching assistant.

I called them.

I interviewed.

I made clear my utter lack of experience.

They did not care.

I was given the job.

I was sent to a school in slough that had corridor fights at every break time and was given a day’s timetable of graphic design.

I had an amazing day telling the students how great their creations were and giving them suggestions to make them even better.

Fueling the spark of young creativity is like having pure electric joy running through your veins.

After my first day – the agency called me up to get me to quit my other job.

I negotiated a savvy 15% pay rise (£70 to £80, which does not account for the agency fee that the school gets charged as well) and set a new course for my life.

On my second day, on which I actually had to deal with some less than enthusiastic classes, a teacher pulled me close and said “if you are nice to them, they will eat you alive.

You need to be mean to them. They need to know that you are top dog, or they will think that they are.”

I now know that this is a matter of having authority in a classroom and does not in any way justify being an asshole.

On my third day I tried to break up a corridor fight – I stopped two students who were both half a foot taller than me, one by grabbing his neck, and I shoved the other, who was in tears, away.

I told the other kid to get himself to the bathroom and wash his face and took the aggressor to his head of year.

He chuckled and said, “oh Bradley, what are you like?”

The staff had given up on trying to stop these fights happening, they could not get through the challenges of their own day without their break time.

On the fourth day I was at the front of a maths lesson.

Well I say in charge – the school had knocked a wall down and made a classroom that could sit 60.

The class was run by a deputy head. He was not a maths specialist but had been given the role because he had a loud shouty angry voice.

They had 4 teaching assistants running around trying to help people.

The kids in the first classroom had a poor lesson.

The kids in the second classroom might as well have been in the playground.

But I went around and helped where I could.

They were struggling with fractions.

I showed them how and saw lightbulb moments. I remember this being the first time where I ever felt I had really taught kids maths.

They were bubbling with excitement at how easy I had made it for them.

It is one of the most exhilarating and rewarding feelings I have ever known.

On my fifth day I listened to a child who looked like the world had broken him, tell me how he was being mercilessly bullied and the teachers were refusing to listen. He confided in me because I had seen it in a class, and I had made it clear how unacceptable that behaviour was.

I reported it. He said that it had been reported many times before, but nothing ever came of it. I held it together until he had gone onto his next lesson, went into an empty classroom and wept.

At the end of my 6th day, as I was leaving the deputy headteacher suggested I could be a future head of maths (I think this was because he did not have a head of maths) and that I should have a discussion with him about my options to train with them to become a teacher.

“There’s this program called ‘Assessment Only’” he said. “It’s supposed to be for teachers from other countries whose qualifications don’t count here, but you can just start teaching and we’ll pay for it.”

I never got to have that conversation.

Not with him at least.

On day 7 I was dismissed from the school for acting in an incredibly unprofessional manner.

I do regret my actions, but without any experience or training, I should never have been put into the situation.

I walked into my final class of the day – and saw 3 girls on their phones and immediately tried to defuse the situation by making a joke out of it:

“You put those phones away, and I’ll pretend I didn’t see them and don’t know that the school’s rule is that I have to confiscate them.”

They looked up, and, in a very teenagerly fashion, tutted, sneered and went back to looking at their phones.

I tried another tactic.

“Ok let’s just think about some facts that we all know. We all know that Mrs K****t, the head of isolation, is in that door behind that window, and we know she will come and confiscate your phones, so we might as well get this over with now and save her and you the bother.”

Another round of tuts and sneers.

I followed through.

Mrs K****t came and asked for the phone in a much more forward and much less friendly manner.

The answer was still no.

There was a back and forth tennis match, at the front of the class I was supposed to be getting to do an exam paper:

“You’ll lose your lunch tomorrow”

“Still not giving you my phone”

“You’ll get a detention”

“Still not giving you my phone”

“you’ll get double detention”

“Still not giving you my phone”

“you’ll get a weekend detention”

“Still not giving you my phone”

“you’ll get put in isolation”

“Still not giving you my phone”

“You’ll get excluded”

“Well then I MIGHT AS WELL JUST LEAVE.”

And, much to the head of isolations bewilderment, she did. Just walked straight out the room.

The head of isolation then turned to me, as if this was my fault and snapped, “Is that sorted now?”

“I hope so” I responded.

It was not.

As soon as she left the other two girls who JUST AS EQUALLY HAD NOT GIVEN ME THEIR PHONES AND STILL HAD THEIR PHONES started SHRIEKING at me

“YOU GOT OUR FRIEND EXPELLED HOW COULD YOU DO THAT WHAT A NASTY MAN YOU ARE”

I exasperatedly responded, “You’ve just seen what happened last time, now I’m going to go and get the head of isolation again – are you girls sure you want to go to round two on this?”

They did not calm down, so I had to go back to the head of inclusion

.

She said she was busy; it was my problem and I had to deal with it, that’s what the school is paying my agency for.

Now I had enough grief off teenage girls when I was a teenage boy – and I was not about to take it from a group of bullies who just happen to have never tried to pick on someone they shouldn’t have.

I asked them once, politely to leave. I said that if they didn’t, they would regret it.

More shrieking.

I took out all my anger at the whole sordid system on them.

I tore them to pieces.

I laid bare exactly how childish and entitled their behaviour was, how disgusting that kind of behaviour was to each and every person that suffered their embarrassing behaviour as a detriment to their learning.

I spoke at length of how miserable and bleak the future that they were creating for themselves was and how for the rest of their lives they would remember my words and know that they deserved every bad thing that would happen to them.

I punctuated every verbal lash with the phrase “I SAID GET OUT OF MY CLASSROOM.”

They lasted around 20 minutes. Until, eventually, in floods of tears, and with no will left to keep screaming at me, they left my classroom.

At the end of the lesson I spent an extra hour writing up the incident on the school system.

That’s something you don’t hear about education – when you have the worst, most impossible day ever, you’ll get rewarded with having to write about it in excruciating detail so that the kids don’t get to make up their own version that would get you barred from ever teaching again.

My write-up probably still exists somewhere. It would be great to have a copy.

While writing the statement, the two non-excluded girls came back with another student who planned to tell me how much of a terrible person I was. He got the same treatment and left in the same floods of tears.

The agency called me later that evening saying that the school did not want me back.

But it was fine they told me – It’s a really bad school and stuff like that happens to everyone we send there.

We have another school for you to be in tomorrow, its much closer to you – near London.

I took a couple days leave, and then drove there and found the new school. Beautiful new building, big sportsgrounds, they even had a football academy!

But despite paying the agency an outrageous fee to have me there – they had given me a timetable with a free period.

I said: “that’s a waste of my time and your money: put me in a year 11 maths class so I can help out.”

I was placed with the head of maths’s year 11 class. They were trying to revise for their upcoming GCSE exam, but everyone was stressed out and their teacher could not look less invested in their future. She had set up her own business and it had taken off. She’d put in her notice and had given up.

The kids could not understand what their teacher, the head of maths, was half-heartedly explaining and when she had stopped trying, the two students nearest me turned and begged me to help them.

I started explaining how I understood it and the students started tapping the shoulders of the rows in front of them. Before long everyone was just looking at me at the back of the classroom, and the teacher gave up on the class and let me run it.

Within the hour she was outside the door to my next class, offering me the job of maths teacher.

No training provided.

No support provided.

No degree qualification in maths.

No qualification in teaching.

No experience in maths.

No experience in teaching.

Full progress responsibility.

Full safeguarding responsibility.

15 hours a week teaching timetable and a year 8 form with some incredibly vulnerable students.

I could not quite understand it.

I didn’t understand it really, I actually just thought that I was going to be still just doing the work of a cover supervisor.

I realised a week later when I found out they were firing the guy I was replacing.

I thought he would still be making the lessons, so asked the head of maths who would be planning the lessons I would be teaching and she said “You will”

I had not realised when she asked me if I wanted to teach maths that she was asking me to be a proper maths teacher.

I asked “should I tell the kids I don’t have any experience, training or qualification?”

“I wouldn’t” she responded.

On the day I realised she had asked me to be a real teacher I was shellshocked.

I went and played table tennis with students at the table tennis club, I told them what had happened, they were so excited, all hoping I’d be their teacher.

Chaos ensued.

The teacher I was replacing had a really sick child.

He had barely been coming in two days a week for most of the term and he is the 3rd person his classes had been told would be their teacher for the whole year.

I was the fourth, there would later be a fifth.

There were a few more weeks of cover supervising and then I was there.

Mr Russell.

Maths teacher.

Madness.

Before my first ever lesson I ask my head of department who hired me if she will check my PowerPoint slides that I have made with no help to make sure that they are ok and she gives me a tired look and said “Do I have to?”

“I’d really like you to” was my response.

She tutted, said she wouldn’t tell the kids any of the personal details I put in it to humanise myself and build empathy, but concluded that “it would be fine.”

It would not. I had absolutely no idea of how much worse things would get.

…to be continued…

In the meantime, follow me on social media if you want to know when the next chapter drops:

 

Since I’ve started a YouTube channel to document my adventures, including a tutorial on how I got half a million impressions on my first six days of Twitter with only 76 followers, How twitter let me buy advertising saying how they don’t check their ads well enough, and a music video with very little musical talent:

YouTube.com/c/russellwellbeing 

Another 5 starters

Summer holiday has begun, and I’ve found a little bit of inspiration from a newspaper article.

I cannot imagine what it must be like living in a country where the median age is 15.

I think it is important that we make children aware of how different other places in the world can be.

I’ve uploaded another five starter activities including the one about the data above.

I’m not sure whether to put a warning on it, that may change.

41 activities now available, I intend to see this number continue to grow!